Penny Dreadful Season 1 Ep 4 (TV Show Review)

Mixing the horror and the supernatural with the historical, John Logan’s Penny Dreadful for Showtime arrived about a month back and it got off on a really good start. The writing by Logan himself was pretty strong, and it also helped immensely that the show had a really good cast of actors who all know their jobs and are powerhouses in their own way. Timothy Dalton, Eva Green and Josh Hartnett together in a historical horror? Oh yes, I’m all for that, and all over that too. Later tonight, the fifth episode will air, and I can’t wait to watch it later this week.

The fourth episode, “Demimonde“, tackles the relationships between all the different members of the primary cast and it also shines a light on the more cerebral nature of those relationships. Each character has a past, something that veers towards the darker nature of man, and in this episode we see glimpses of it again and again. And in a brilliant bit of direction, the episode opens up with an orgy at Dorian Gray’s house, and the sequence ends with him confronting his own portrait, locked away in the depths of his palatial house. All throughout, you are really struck with the depth of the story and the many layers to the characters, all intertwining together into something much more.

Penny Dreadful Logo 0001The title of the episode pretty much reflects what the story this time is about, not literally of course, but in terms of how it references everyone and their secrets that they keep hidden from the world around them. And they all have secrets, without a doubt. For Frankenstein for example, it is the fact that he created life from death in Caliban who now wants a Bride of his own to be happy with for the rest of his unnatural and possibly immortal life. For Vanessa, it is the fact that she somehow betrayed Mina at some point before Mina fell to the wiles of Dracula. For Ethan, it is the fact that there is something very werewolf-y going on with him, which is possibly one reason that he doesn’t offer his blood when asked for to aid in the Vampire Fenton’s transfusion as per Frankenstein’s possible treatment for de-vampiring him. And so on. Layer upon layer of secrets and mysteries, everything coming together to take the story in ever new and interesting directions.

Symbolism is strong in this episode and the various character arcs become a metaphor for each other in a way that heightens the tension and anticipation for each of these characters. There’s all sorts of flirtatious behaviour going on as well, and this plays into how each character is manipulating the other, whether by conscious design or otherwise. When you see how the episode finale, the quite surprising switch in how Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler and Reeve Carney’s Dorian Gray relate to each other, then you’ll see just how… different this show aims to be. Ultimately, I love that the show plays loose and fast with sexuality. It doesn’t present bisexuality or homosexuality as a sin or an evil or a crime or any of that nonsense. It treats such things as a matter of course, which is at it should be, and is also notable in a historical like Penny Dreadful. As Anne Lyle’s historical fantasy trilogy Night’s Masque has shown me, the English certainly had quite an open society at a time, and Penny Dreadful seems to be quite reflective of that.

The main thing about this episode is that there aren’t any major moments of wow and pizazz here, unlike the previous episodes. In fact, since this one is directed by Dearbhla Walsh, just as episode 3 was, the exposition-heavy story is once again in full effect. Not fur us this time the mysteries such as the ones revealed to Sir Malcolm Murray by an Egyptologist in the previous episodes, but more the fact that each character hides a darkness and that this darkness is hidden by the veneer of civility between them all. The episode is about the tender moments, whether sexual or otherwise, and seeing a lot of these characters in their “weak” moments, that’s when the show gets really good.

There is also a setup going on here though. For instance, Caliban wants himself an immortal bride and as Frankenstein says, for that the corpse of a woman is needed, preferably a woman who was beautiful in life, as Caliban orders his creator. Of course, they aren’t exactly going to just find any random corpse, no. We know that Brona Croft is on the verge of death, suffering from consumption and thus she isn’t long for this world. Might Ethan Chandler’s lover become the immortal bride of Frankenstein’s monster? Is that where her storyline is taking her? And what really is going on with Ethan Chandler and his aversion to the instances of cruelty that he sees in London, first with the beating up of Fenton in one of the previous episodes and then the dog vs rats slaughter in this episode? Mindless cruelty is what he seems to be opposed to, but surely there is more than that. Given some of the things that he says, I have a half-baked theory that he truly is a werewolf, a skinwalker of the legends of the Native American tribes that are little more than a shadow of their former selves in America, and thus he might even have spent some time in a circus or some such as a display, against his will and beaten in the bargain as well. Possibilities are endless.

Then there’s the whole thing going on with how tortured both Vanessa Ives and Malcolm Murray feel over the disappearance of the former’s friend and the latter’s daughter Mina. There is a big story there, struggling to get out, and the fantastic performances by both Eva Green and Timothy Dalton pay testament to that I think. It is their acting as much as the writing that really pulls you into this whole subplot, and I for one can’t wait to find out more. Especially since tonight’s episode is titled “Closer Than Sisters“. Just what secrets might we discover this week?

Penny Dreadful Cast 0001

The centerpiece of this episode is a performance of The Transformed Beast at the Grand Guignol, the theater where Caliban was hired on as a stage-hand in the last episode. The story played out is of a werewolf-like creature who murders his beloved, and that metaphorically applies to a lot of the characters here. Could it be a direct reference to Ethan’s own secret? Could it be a metaphor for the relationship between Vanessa and Dorian, especially given their conversation earlier in the episode? Or is it a metaphor for the rough relationship between Frankenstein and Caliban, which it could very well be?

The episode raises a lot of questions, and thankfully it starts to answer to some of them. Oh and we finally get to see Van Helsing on the show, played by the awesome David Warner, who is just brilliant in the five minutes that he gets on-screen. Hopefully that is going to be addressed some more in the future episodes!

For now though, I find myself absolutely riveted by the show, because each episode is better than the last and it takes a mix of approaches in terms of its execution. Can’t ask for more than that really.

More Penny Dreadful: Eps 1-3.

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Posted on June 8, 2014, in Penny Dreadful, Review Central, TV Show Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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